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Where does that math word come from?

By Murray Bourne, 20 Jun 2007

This is a great resource for the historical background of the terms we use in mathematics: Earliest Known Uses of Some of the Words of Mathematics (by "Jeff570" - no longer available).

For example:

ARITHMETIC is a Greek word transliterated into English as arithmetike. It passed into Latin as arithmetica. [...] Fibonacci [around 1200, used] the form "Rismetirca."


ASYMPTOTE was used by Apollonius, with a broader meaning than its current definition, referring to any lines which do not meet, in whatever direction they are produced (Smith).

The first citation of the word in the OED is in 1656 in Hobbes' Elements of Philosophy by Thomas Hobbes: "Asymptotes..come still nearer and nearer, but never touch."


MATHEMATICS. Pythagoras is said to have coined the words philosophy for "love of wisdom" and mathematics for "that which is learned."

See the 4 Comments below.

4 Comments on “Where does that math word come from?”

  1. yinka says:

    this does not answer the qustion

  2. Murray says:

    Yinka: There is a difference between "Where does the word math come from" and "Where does that math word come from". The former is asking about one particular word and the latter is about mathematical words in general.

    The final statement by Pythagoras answers the former.

  3. stevey says:

    So u no that mah orginates from china but y do epople say africa??

  4. Murray says:

    People from every civilization have contributed to the development of math, Stevey, not just China! (and I don't know that the post was about China's contributions, anyway).

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